Private Investigators Help Exonerate Innocent People Wrongfully Convicted in Capital Murder Cases

A number of PIs put their investigative skills to work helping the defense examine evidence in capital murder cases. The evidence in such cases can be voluminous and overwhelming, and PIs use their analytical skills to sort through it and find inconsistencies. This leaves the defense lawyers free to focus on legal matters.

For instance, one high profile case was that of New Orleans man John Thompson who came within 48 hours of being executed in 1999. Fortunately, a PI hired by the defense discovered that a man wanted for a related crime had Type B blood and that Thompson’s was Type O. This evidence was enough for a judge to order a new trial in which Thompson was found innocent. CNN recently featured his story on April 6.

Many states have a dedicated fund to provide the money for defense attorneys to hire PIs in capital cases for people who cannot afford to pay for a PI. Although it was defunded in 2011, Illinois established the Capital Litigation Trust Fund that took effect in 2000. Legislators were motivated to pass this law after an innocent man came within 48 hours of being executed before the collaborative work of a PI and a journalism professor exonerated him.

California allocates $28 an hour for PIs in Superior Court capital cases. However, top-notch PIs in the state can bill more than $100 an hour. High-profile defense attorney Donald Re told the Los Angeles Times that “he has been taken aback” with how quickly good PIs can turn up leads. He recounted an instance in which a PI was able to identify a potential witness in 3 hours just knowing that the man worked for an auto body shop and was supposed to live on a particular street.

In addition to being a potentially lucrative specialty, PIs who focus on capital cases have the chance to bring about justice for those wrongly convicted.